Addressing gender equality in international trade
H.E. Dr. Athaliah Lesiba Molokomme- Ambassador of Botswana
H.E. Ana Patricia Benedetti Zelaya- Ambassador of El Salvador
H.E. Harald Aspelund- Ambassador of Iceland
The World Trade Organization (WTO) has increasingly embarked on broader efforts towards gender balance and inclusivity. It has now evolved from a gender-blind organization into a gender-responsive one.
During the WTO's 11th Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires in 2017, Members endorsed an initiative which seeks to foster women’s economic empowerment through their participation in international trade – the Buenos Aires Declaration on Trade and Women`s Economic Empowerment. This was done in collaboration with the Trade Impact Group of the International Gender Champions (IGC), which included the International Trade Centre (ITC).
Following this major milestone, an Informal Working Group on Trade and Gender (IWG) was established at the WTO in 2020 to integrate gender into WTO’s work, be it through experience-sharing on trade policy or Aid for Trade, for instance.
As a first concrete outcome, the IWG has worked in 2021 to adopt a new Declaration on trade and gender taking this issue forward in the WTO. Thanks to the facilitation of the WTO Secretariat, we found it fitting to take the lead in steering the work of this group, to ensure that it delivers on its mandate, together with signatories to the Buenos Aires Declaration and any other interested Members.
The enthusiasm to take up this role was also premised on the fact that our respective countries have prioritized national efforts towards sustainable, inclusive and gender-responsive development initiatives.
The detrimental impact of COVID-19 on women
The initiatives and discussions at the Informal Working Group are relevant now more than ever due to the detrimental impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women. Through the work of the Informal Working Group on Trade and Gender, the WTO plays a role in mitigating these effects on women. It also acts on a long-term perspective, not just to restore economic balance in favour of women but also to consolidate current actions and leap them forward.
The group aims to share best practices on removing barriers to women's participation in global trade, exchange views on how to apply a “gender lens” to the work of the WTO, review gender-related reports produced by the Secretariat, and discuss how women may benefit from the Aid for Trade initiatives.
Participation in this Informal Working Group is open to all WTO Members. In 2021, members have discussed various trade instruments, policies and programmes in support of women, in 12 categories of policy intervention areas, ranging from data collection methods; assessing the impact of trade, trade policies and trade agreements on women; combating the impacts of COVID-19 on women; promoting women entrepreneurship; Aid for Trade and capacity building. It showcased work conducted at the national, regional and international levels in support of women.
We are delighted and thankful that the Group has been working tirelessly to ensure that an outcome will be achieved during the forthcoming discussions at the next WTO Ministerial Conference (date tbc).
The Conference will provide an impetus to advance work in raising the visibility of trade and gender, and to identify key areas that make trade policies more gender responsive.
The new Declaration on trade and gender equality supported (as of now) by two-thirds of the WTO Members and to be adopted at the WTO Twelfth Ministerial Conference, will fulfil these objectives, and make trade work for women.